Here’s a movie that both doesn’t live up to expectations and ends up being exactly what you’d expect it to be. It sounded good, “Luc Besson presents Jet Li in Kiss of the Dragon”. Right there, you think back to how cool and badass French everyman Jean Reno was in Besson’s “The Professional”, and you gotta wonder what he’ll make out of Li, an action god in the first place. Then again, you have to remember that Besson isn’t actually directing, he’s one of the producers. So, say what you want, but when all is said and done, this is a Chris Nahon movie. Who? Exactly. Just another unknown wannabe who likes to move the camera a lot and to edit everything into little fast shots that don’t add up to much.
Mmm. But Besson IS writing, right. Well, co-writing, but yeah, he cooked this one up. The only thing is that… he’s not much of a writer! “The Professional” wasn’t a badly written script or anything, but it’s not brilliant screenwriting either. Bad cops kill neighbours of hit-man, hit-man befriends girl who survived the massacre, violence ensues. Cue credits. What made the film great was Besson’s thoughtful direction. Now, with “Kiss of the Dragon”, you got another so-so Besson script that’s little more than a collection of American B-movie clichés as interpreted by Frenchmen prone to cornball and silliness, except that he’s not there on set to elevate the material into art. In his place is that hack Nahon coming off like a poor man’s Michael Bay.
Mmm. “So, what’s it about?”, you ask. Alright, I’ll tell you, don’t mess yourself. There’s this Chinese cop named Liu Jian (Jet Li) who arrives in France to help local officers arrest an Asian crime kingpin who’s making the rounds in Paris. Unfortunately, it seems that every French copper is rotten, none more than Jean-Pierre Richard (Tchéky Karyo), who turns out to be in cahoots with the Chinese gangsters and who frames Jian as the traitor to save his butt. Er, Liu’s like pissed about that, so he sets out to prove his innocence and get back at the corrupt policemen at the same time. Violence ensues. Oh, and of course there’s a corny, forced sentimental angle to the plot, as unlikely coincidences put Jessica (Bridget Fonda), a hooker whom, of course, has a heart of gold and is only selling herself to get back her young daughter (are you crying yet?), alongside Liu for the ride. Convention would have them fall in love in the face of danger, but with her being Caucasian and him Asian, any potential romantic twist is only hinted at. *sigh*
Do I really need to go back and point out why the story’s unoriginal and retarded? Do I need to go on about how Li’s character is a blank, just this good guy who knows kung fu and acupuncture, how Fonda’s glamour trash prostitute has these huge chunks of awkward, sappy dialogue, how the only motivation of the dirty cops seems to be that, well, they’re dirty… What about how French characters speak English amongst themselves? Or do you wanna know about the obligatory token wise old Chinese guy?
Mmm. It does sound pretty bad, ey? “Yet,” you might add, “this is an action flick after all, who cares about plot and dialogue?” Good point. When the filmmakers stop pretending they -or we- care about its excuse of a storyline, it is possible to get lost in the over-the-top martial arts, shoot-outs and chases. There’s a nice little brawl in a laundry room which has Li using irons as weapons, a face-off on a “bateau-mouche” tourist cruise, and then there’s the climactic sequence which has Li battling various bad cops, two tall bleached effete but hard-ass twins and even a whole dojo of kung fu experts! There are some good, exciting moments to be enjoyed, as Jet Li proves once again how exceptionally quick, tough, agile and charismatic he can be. Unfortunately, Nahon ruins a lot of potentially cool action by frenetically chopping it all up into generic, MTV-ready mayhem. Hardly anything in the film is as graceful and thrilling as what you can see in Jet Li’s Hong Kong films. Hence, while “Kiss of the Dragon” remains a relatively fun little brain-dead punch-em-out worth a rental, it’s forgettable at best.